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The Cat Who Swallowed a Needle

IMG_0417Kali, an 8 year old domestic short hair cat, presented to Dr. Streck at Caring Hands Centreville for a several day history of decreased appetite and weight loss.  Her owner described her as just acting “off” – she was lethargic and hiding, and really didn’t seem interested in food.  Kali is an all-indoor cat who had not been to the vet in a while, but before this incident, seemed healthy at home.

Kali was running a low grade fever and had an area on the bottom of her neck where she had been scratching.  She’d caused mild bleeding and the area was somewhat swollen.  Additionally, she seemed to be breathing a little hard.  Otherwise, her exam really didn’t give any clues as to what might be ailing her.  The owner agreed to x-rays and bloodwork.  Those diagnostics revealed a surprising find: Kali had a large sewing needle embedded in her neck!

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Because it was late in the evening and Kali was stable, she was scheduled for surgery with Dr. Clendenin the next morning.  Dr. Clendenin started by incising the swelling and discovered that it was a large abscess.  She flushed out all the infectious discharge and explored the defect.  Unfortunately, no needle could be found!

After a brainstorming session with the other doctors, Dr. Clendenin decided to use the dental x-ray machine to try to locate the needle.  A series of x-rays were taken of Kali’s neck, and it was discovered that overnight the needle had shifted from the right side of her neck (where it was on the original x-rays) to the left side of her neck.  With this new information, Dr. Clendenin was able to separate the muscle layers and identify a black thread.  After some very careful manipulation, she followed the thread to the needle and carefully removed it from Kali’s neck.

Afterward, Dr. Clendenin removed all diseased tissue and thoroughly flushed Kali’s wound with an antibacterial solution to remove all infectious debris.  She then closed the wound in her neck with skin sutures.  Kali was given a long-acting, injectable antibiotic and good pain medications to ease her recovery.  After only 1 week at home, Dr. Clendenin removed Kali’s sutures and she was well on her way to a full recovery.

If you’d like to view the full set of (graphic) pictures from Kali’s surgery, you may do so by clicking here.

Note:  Sewing needles, especially those with thread attached, are common foreign bodies in cats.  Cats play with the thread and start eating it, eventually swallowing the needle attached to the thread.  Sometimes needles pass through the gastrointestinal tract without any problems.  In other cases, like Kali, the sharp point of the needle may pierce through the esophagus, stomach or intestines and the needle can then migrate throughout the body.  If you own cats, be sure to store your sewing supplies in a secure area out of reach of your curious feline.